In a historic turnaround, the ballot box is showing America's shifting attitudes about same-sex marriage. After gay marriage rights died at the polls dozens of times in the past, on Tuesday they passed in at least two states.
Rarely do popular votes reflect such dramatic social changes.
The result: Maryland and Maine will now allow couples like Chyrino Patane and James Trinidad to tie the knot.
The Maryland couple has been together for seven years, and now, after the historic vote, they plan to marry in the next six months to a year.
"Both families will be at the wedding," Patane said.
But the win was hard fought and the margin of victory was small.
"We've lost at the ballot box 32 times," said Paul Guequierre of Human Rights Campaign. "History was made tonight."
In Maine, Erica Tobey and Ali Ouellette wed in September, but only now will the women's marriage be recognized under Maine law.
"It's hard to overstate the national significance of this vote," Marc Solomon, campaign director at Freedom to Marry, said of the Maine referendum.
In Maryland, where just 51.9% of voters approved gay marriage rights, "It was a little bit pins and needles," said Human Rights Campaign's Kevin Nix. "It was going to be a close call all along."
A similar ballot measure in Washington state is pending. And in Minnesota, voters rejected a measure that would have banned same-sex marriage.
Pollsters got a hint of the coming change. Recent national surveys have shown shifting attitudes toward same-sex marriage, with a majority of Americans now approving of marriages between two men or two women. A June CNN/ORC poll, for example, reflected such a shift in opinion in the U.S.
Support has been growing for decades.
In the 1990s, most Americans told pollsters they did not know anyone close to them who was gay. By 2010, the number of Americans who said they had a gay or lesbian close friend or family member was 49%. This year, that number stands at 60%.
Election Day brought two additional gains for proponents of same-sex marriage: Wisconsin elected America's first openly lesbian senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, and President Obama became the first president to openly support same-sex marriage and get re-elected.
"I have never been this happy after an election in my 17 years of voting," said Derek Hurder from Hampden, Maine, who's been with his partner, Chris McLaughlin, for a year and a half.
They're not yet ready for marriage, but they were elated about having the option. And they both voted to re-elect the president.
The change in attitude makes them feel more comfortable, but that has its limits. "I wouldn't feel safe walking down the street holding hands," Hurder said.
Patane and Trinidad share their Catholic faith and are despondent that the church won't recognize their union.
"I believe in a religious marriage," Trinidad said. "I recognize that it's going to be a nonreligious wedding."
Tobey and Ouellette, who met four years ago, tied the knot last September -- in a church.
"We are affiliated with the United Methodist Church, which on the whole does not support same-sex marriage," Tobey said. But their church made a hearty exception. "We had three pastors who know us and love us and agreed to do that for us."
The legal situation led the couple to do things in reverse order. After their wedding, they applied for a name change. Now that the referendum has passed, they'll apply for a marriage license.
Maine should begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples in mid-December, according to same-sex marriage supporters at Freedom to Marry.
What the measures say